Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Embrace, Extend, Extinguish, Exmpp

I fancy myself a very clever fellow and am constantly amazed and amused by the simultaneous depth and subtlety of my own wit. When I recently thought up the phrase “Embrace, Extend, Extinguish, Exmpp” I thought I’d outdone myself.  “Good show, old man” I said to myself, “extremely clever use of allusion, alliteration, illumination, and all-around brevity. You must share this with the world. I wager you could fit it all in a tweet three or four times over.”

I took my own advice and put the phrase on Twitter, and on a few other computer-nerdy social forums for good measure. Then I waited for the accolades, the likes, the retweets, the up-votes, the anonymous bitcoin deposits. I watched for bloggers to carefully parse, deconstruct, and reconstitute every syllable.


Not even a trollish complaint about my spelling error.

Dagnabbit. If no one else is going to plumb the depths of my clever phrase, I’ll just have to do it myself!

Ancient history: Once upon a time there was a company called Microsoft that ruled the software landscape. If you had a personal computer, it was almost unfathomable to think that you would run any program without going through Microsoft software first (from booting, to the DOS console, to Windows). Owning the cash-cow operating system business wasn’t enough for Microsoft, especially when they could see other companies creating lucrative software on top of their OS—Microsoft wanted to have IT ALL. Whenever another company created software with any potential financial success, Microsoft would make their own version of that software and use their position to ensure that Microsoft’s version gained most of the market share until their competitors were dead (at which point Microsoft often lost interest in the category). It reached the point that Microsoft could simply leak the news that it was going to make a product (whether or not the news was true it created fear, uncertainty, and doubt) and the competitors were dead in the water.

Microsoft’s products were seldom better than the products they quashed, so why did Microsoft’ products win?
  • Dumping. Microsoft could undercut the price of everyone. Microsoft had so much money from their cash cows that they could afford to lose money on any product, for however long it took, until their competitors were gone. (I remember for a while, when Microsoft wanted to take over the encyclopedia market, their rebates where $25 more than the price of the product, so you could literally make money the more encyclopedias you bought).
  • Microsoft controlled the world’s primary operating system, so they could do whatever OS tweaks they needed, or withhold whatever secret APIs were most useful, or prepare upcoming OS changes that only their own teams knew about, to give their own products the edge.
  • Through bundling, Microsoft’s advertising and distributions costs where lower. Because just about every computer user already received Microsoft’s OS, and probably Office Suite (by the time Lotus, Harvard Graphics, Borland, Word-Perfect etc.. where out of business), there was virtually no additional overhead to make the customers aware of other MS software, and to include it in the OS or Office for (essentially) free.
  • Microsoft could make a very plausible case that their own products worked better together.
  • I think it fundamentally comes down to the only clever thing I ever heard my oldest brother say: “he who owns the boot sector owns the world”. Because Microsoft had you from the time you booted your computer, they had an extreme advantage in guiding you “where they wanted you to go that day”.
An illuminating time in Microsoft’s history occurred when they realized that the web was taking over. They could see that with the web and browsers it could someday be possible that it didn’t matter who’s operating system you were running. Everything would be run through a dumb browser, and it didn’t matter what OS the web servers ran. This was cause for panic. They fought this web trend briefly, and then came up with a new strategy.

Publicly the strategy was that Microsoft was going to embrace the web. But privately, as later revealed in court documents, the strategy was “Embrace, Extend, Extinguish”. As part of this strategy Microsoft first began releasing a really good browser, even better than their competitors’ (seriously, IE Haters, the toddler version of IE were great for their day), and they released it for free and as part of the operating system.  Bye bye Netscape (the threat of the day).

With IE and other software, Microsoft clearly embraced the web standards. But then Microsoft started to extend those standards, improving on them faster than the W3C could keep up. Many of those extensions eventually became the standards we know and love today (table improvements, css+, xmlhttprequest/ajax) but some extensions would only work on Microsoft operating systems (e.g., activex to give native performance to components). These extensions resulted in a better browser and workplace experience than the (soon to be extinguished) competitors.

That’s the ancient history. The more recent story involves Google.  Google of today has amazing parallels to Microsoft of back then.  (In fact, I thought about writing the previous Microsoft history as a sort of Mad Lib game, where the blanks could be filled randomly by either “Microsoft” or “Google”, but I don’t know how to do something programmatic like that on blogspot).  Google has it’s own cash cow (but only one, so far), and like the old Microsoft they have cash to dump products on the market to undercut competitors until there is no competition (Android being the biggest price-dump, but just about every free Google property is an example of this). Also, like old Microsoft, you almost can’t get anywhere without going through the Google boot sector first (the search engine, gmail, android, working toward the browser). And again, repeating an old story, if Google sees a market category getting too much traction they duplicate that product, tie it into their existing product line, and make it cheaper (usually free), as long as that competitor exists (after which Google may lose interest in the category, such as with their recent abandonment of the RSS industry).

I find it really interesting to watch the Chrome browser part of this story, and compare it to old IE. Chrome was released as a really great browser embracing all of the web standards. From early on, Google used Chrome to push out a lot of what they called “web standards” (although if only chrome has them, and W3C is just being told about them, how are they “standards” and not “extensions”?) and chrome-only add-ons that actually are called “extensions”. Finally, to give native performance in Chrome they created a new “standard” called NaCl (because the term “ActiveX” was already taken?).

I’m getting really really close to explaining “Embrace, Extend, Extinguish, Exmpp” now, really I am.

Recently, it has become increasingly clear that Google’s years of talk about “open standards” is a bunch of hogwash (for example: Is Google Dumping Open Standards For Open Wallets?), and on the day I came up with my oh-so-clever phrase Google announced that their messaging products were dropping the XMPP standard on which many other messaging products rely for standard compatibility.  A few years ago they embraced XMPP (allowing other messaging products to collaborate equally), even extending XMPP (for voice & video), and now they’re dropping it, extinguishing the category of compatible messaging.

So, here it comes:
Embrace, Extend, Extinguish, Exmpp
In those four words I express an amazing amount of tech history. I demonstrate the new role Google plays, and what’s behind their hi-falutin do-no-evil talk. I clarify beyond any doubt that Google is the new Microsoft. NOW do you see how clever I am?

So if Google is the new Microsoft, what’s going to happen next? For Microsoft a few things happened. Legal action was a big part of it. The US Department of Justice (which uncovered the EEE phrase on which I’ve now built my EEEE reputation) and European Union did their best to stop many of the monopolistic and anti-competitive practices. The other big thing that happened to Microsoft was Google.

So what will happen to Google? The same the thing happened to Microsoft, of course. We’ll start to see Google as the enemy There will be government legal action. Eventually some other company will ride some new technology wave and displace Google.
Somewhere I can now hear an old old timer pointing out that IBM did all the same stuff in an earlier phase of technology (and probably AT&T before that)—riding a cash cow monopoly and anti-competitive practices to kill the competition—until there was legal action, a new technology wave, and a new technology behemoth: Microsoft. It was said then that Microsoft was the new IBM.
If Microsoft was the new IBM, and Google is the new Microsoft, then who is going to be the new Google?  For a while they worried that Facebook was going to be the new Google, but it turns out that Facebook is just the new AOL (i.e. a garden that is “the internet” for people of a certain age).

As long as we’re playing the “is the new” game:
• Amazon is the new Sears Roebuck
• Apple is the new Sony
Airbnbconfessions is the new Wikileaks
• Law & Order is the new Dragnet
• Lupo is the new Friday
• African American is the new Black
• Lost Sirens is the new New Order

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